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Tips for Acing Your Interview for an International Internship

Tips for Acing Your Interview for an International Internship

I remember doing my first interview for an international internship back in 2009. I was interviewing for a marketing role at a non-profit organization in the Middle East -- as a liberal arts student studying Chinese. I’m still amazed I managed to land the role.

Seven years later, I just got hired to manage international projects for a prominent Silicon Valley start-up -- with no start-up experience. I found the same principles I learned when applying to competitive international internships still apply when applying to competitive international full-time jobs.

And from my experience, landing those early internships abroad lead to the ability to build a long-term global career.

From someone five years into her career post-college, who held two international internships in college and has worked professionally in over a dozen countries since, here are my best tips and tricks to help you on your way.

Tips on Acing Your International Internship Interview

1. Do Your Research

This is absolutely critical. The secret to landing a job that you may not be totally qualified for is that the employer wants someone who understands what he or she is getting into. You can score major bonus points over other candidates simply by having a crystal clear idea of the company, role, and what they need right now, beyond what’s merely in the job description.

Spend an enormous amount of time researching the organization you’re applying to. Study the industry as a whole and their competitors, too, if applicable. Read every article related to their product or service on the web, stalk current employees who hold the same or similar role to what you’d have (or who you’d be interning with), and make sure you find out the full names and titles of who’s interviewing you. Find things in their background you can relate to and use it within the first few minutes of the interview to bond (“I saw that you went to Cornell: I’m from upstate New York,” “I see you also studied Arabic in college,” etc).

The more well informed you are about where you’d be working and with whom, the better case you can make for lining up your skills and experience with that information.

International Internship Interview Tips:  Prepare for Questions

2. Prepare for Questions

If you’re feeling nervous about a high-stakes interview, that simply means you’re not ready and you need to spend a lot more time getting prepared. Once you’re fully prepared, the nerves will ease considerably because you know yourself, your experience, what the internship precisely entails, and why you’re qualified.

The best way to prepare is to write out your responses to the most typical interview questions. You don’t want to memorize them, but you want to make sure you’ve thought concretely about how you’d respond to each one so the responses are fresh in your mind when they’re asked in real life. For every question, try to incorporate one example from your coursework, extracurriculars, prior international experience, and prior internships (if applicable) so you make your answers more concrete and relatable.

Common Internship Interview Questions
  • Tell me about yourself. (1-2 minute summary of your skills, interests, and experiences and why those make you perfect for the role)
  • Why do you want an internship with this company?
  • What makes you a good candidate?
  • What specific skills do you have that would relate to this position?
  • What will gain from an internship with this company?
  • What do you know about this industry?
  • How does this internship relate to your career goals?
  • What are your strengths?
  • What are your weaknesses?
  • Tell me about a time when you exercised leadership/initiative/led a team/worked on a team/etc.
  • Tell me about a time when you exercised leadership/initiative/led a team/worked on a team/etc.
  • What previous international experience have you had?

  • What makes you think you’d excel in this role?
  • What makes you think you’d work well in (insert country)?

Other interview questions can be found here.

You’ll also want to have examples ready that describe you as being: independent, culturally sensitive, able to communicate well, and comfortable with ambiguity. These are typical characteristics interviewers are looking for when hiring for an international position. Even if you aren’t asked directly for examples of these traits, try to work them into other responses to strengthen your interview.

If you have foreign language skills that will likely be used during the internship, make sure you prepare to answer a few questions in the other language. Never put “speaks fluent Spanish” on your resume if you’re not comfortable doing this.

International Internship Interview Tips: Highlight Your Qualifications

3. Highlight Your Qualifications, Even If You Haven’t Worked Abroad

It's okay, everyone has to make their maiden voyage into working overseas at some point. What you want to do in this case is emphasize your qualifications for the position itself, regardless of the country where it's taking place. If it's your first time working abroad, make sure you're applying for positions that you are undoubtedly qualified for. Then, the key is to have a crystal clear value proposition. You want to have a statement about why this country, why this position, and why you are the one to do it.

4. Emphasize Your Initiative

Interns who are proactive and exercise a high degree of initiative perform the best and also get the most out of their internship. Make sure you have concrete examples of when you took initiative, even if it's with a small campus organization or a previous part-time job. These examples, regardless of scale, show your character and are incredibly important for selling you for the role.

International Internship Interview Tips: Treat the Interview as a Dialogue

5. Treat the Interview as a Dialogue

Of course, the interviewers are there to get to know you and better understand your qualifications, but they will undoubtedly ask you if you have any questions. Have smart questions prepared for this moment to engage them and show them you’ve thought thoroughly about the role and are already imagining yourself in the intern role.

For example, ask what their precise needs are for the role you're interviewing. Will you be responsible for a specific project or deliverable? What’s the scope of that project? Who will you be working with and who will be evaluating you? On what success metrics?

6. Bring Your Best Attitude

Now that you’re knowledgeable about the role, your own experiences, and the attributes that make you the perfect intern, you have to bring the last piece of the puzzle: confidence and enthusiasm. You have to want this internship more than anything. You have to want to work at this specific organization in this specific role more than anything. Obviously, it helps if you genuinely feel that way so your natural excitement shows. If this is a second or third choice option, force yourself to be in the same positive mindset.

International Internship Interview Tips: Take Care of Pre-Interview Practicalities

7. Take Care of Pre-Interview Practicalities

Lastly, before you even hop on the interview (assuming it will be done on Skype like most international interviews), make sure you’ve taken care of practical measures. You’d be surprised how many interviewees goof time zones or don’t have their audio-visual equipment working.

Triple check time zone differences the day before, and then be online at least 15 minutes before your interview to check your audio, make sure your interview outfit looks good on camera, and ensure your interview setting is appropriate (no messy clothes in the background).

8. Always Follow Up Post-Interview

Make sure you have the contact information for your interviewer and send him or her a thank you note after the interview. In a few sentences, reiterate your interest in the position and the major qualifications that you discussed. This shows your seriousness and professionalism.

Your Formula for Success

If you follow these 8 steps, you'll make a strong impression on your interviewer and hopefully land the internship of your dreams, at home or abroad.

And remember, be human, be yourself, smile, speak slowly and carefully, and study for your interviews like you're studying for the hardest final exams of your life. Getting the email that says "you're hired" will be worth every minute of preparation!

Elaina Giolando

A former NYC management consultant turned legal nomad, Elaina Giolando writes about the intersection of career, life, and travel for today's 20-somethings. She currently works as an international project manager and has traveled to over 50 countries and 6 continents for both work and play. In her spare time, she focuses on providing her peers inspiration to proactively create rewarding and unconventional lifestyles. You'll find her writing here on Go Overseas and also on Business Insider, Fortune, Fast Company, and Huffington Post.

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